BODY NEU­TRAL­ITY

The body-pos­i­tive move­ment con­tin­ues to grow. Which is awe­some. But some­thing else is bub­bling up in the sphere of self-con­fi­dence...

Women's Health Australia - - BEST BODY -

E“Every step, no mat­ter how slow, is progress.” “I want to feel at ease and ac­cept how I look.” These are rea­son­able, achiev­able state­ments – and that’s pre­cisely the point. Slowly, around the world, the lan­guage of lov­ing your body is chang­ing. Amid the roar of pos­i­tiv­ity – from ac­tivists, panel talks and memes – a more sub­dued but no less pow­er­ful phe­nom­e­non is push­ing for­ward. It’s an un­der­stand­ing that not every­one can easily de­velop out-and-proud, shout-it-from-theroof-tops love for their body; that some­times even tol­er­ance is a bat­tle. This is the premise of body neu­tral­ity, a credo that pri­ori­tises ac­cep­tance. To un­der­stand how we got here, it’s help­ful to know where we have come from. The term “body pos­i­tiv­ity” is thought to have been coined in the 1990s by fem­i­nist ac­tivists Con­nie Sobczak and Deb Bur­gard. It gained trac­tion on­line, where a vo­cal com­mu­nity be­gan to use dig­i­tal plat­forms to share thoughts, feel­ings, hopes and anx­i­eties about their bod­ies. Only, for some, the idea of lov­ing, hell, even lik­ing their body was set­ting the bar too high. In re­cent years, body neu­tral­ity has emerged as an al­ter­na­tive and is quickly gain­ing ground. Vo­cal ad­vo­cates, such as The Good Place ac­tress Jameela Jamil, are en­cour­ag­ing con­ver­sa­tions on the topic, while the In­sta­gram hash­tag boasts more than 4000 posts and count­ing.

The trend, de­coded

“It’s about ac­cept­ing your body de­spite any per­ceived im­per­fec­tions,” ex­plains Dr Bry­ony Bam­ford, a clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist spe­cial­is­ing in eat­ing dis­or­ders.

“In do­ing so, you stop al­low­ing those im­per­fec­tions to im­pact your emo­tions or day-to-day life the way they do for those who have par­tic­u­larly poor body im­age. For those women, the jump from dis­lik­ing or even hat­ing their bod­ies to lov­ing them is a vast one.”

That un­re­al­is­tic leap is an idea that even the most vo­cal within the body-pos­i­tive move­ment ac­knowl­edge. Me­gan Jayne Crabbe (@body­posi­panda) is an ac­tivist and au­thor of Body Pos­i­tive Power.

“For me, be­ing body pos­i­tive is about hav­ing a strong-as-fuck be­lief in your­self, but that’s a very dif­fi­cult thing,” she says. “You can’t just mag­i­cally start think­ing, ‘Hey, no­body else’s opin­ion mat­ters!’

You can’t ex­pect peo­ple to go from years of crit­i­cis­ing their bod­ies to sud­denly think­ing they’re flaw­less.”

Anx­i­ety over hav­ing the ideal body for her pro­fes­sion has been an is­sue for model and writer Re­becca Pear­son, but com­ing across the term “body neu­tral­ity” prompted

a shift in her mind­set. “Body neu­tral­ity gave me per­mis­sion to move away from painfully striv­ing to­wards an unattain­able aes­thetic ideal,” she says. “I couldn’t sim­ply leap from wor­ry­ing that my body looked dis­gust­ing and that I was fail­ing in some way, to lov­ing every inch of my­self. Body neu­tral­ity felt like a healthy mid­dle ground. It was say­ing, ‘This is fine: I’m lucky to have an over­all healthy body, and I’m go­ing to calm down a bit about it.’”

Your new bod goals

This mid­dle ground seems to be a use­ful sweet spot; a re­minder that body im­age is a work in progress. “Be­ing nei­ther com­pletely lov­ing nor com­pletely hate­ful to­wards your body can be an im­por­tant step to­wards break­ing the black/white, good/bad po­larised think­ing that of­ten ac­com­pa­nies body is­sues,” says Stella Stathi, a psy­chol­o­gist who spe­cialises in body im­age.

“It can give you some­thing con­crete to aim for that doesn’t feel too over­whelm­ing or im­pos­si­ble but is still an im­por­tant step for­ward.”

For Re­becca, em­brac­ing a neu­tral stance was not only more achiev­able, it has set her on a path to­wards a more body-pos­i­tive place. “First, I stopped wak­ing up at 5am to go to [fit­ness] classes. Then I ditched the samey sal­ads and started cook­ing ac­cord­ing to Ayurvedic prin­ci­ples, which nour­ished my body and made me feel good. I started do­ing barre and yoga, which I gen­uinely love, and I be­gan to ap­pre­ci­ate my body for what it could do, rather than what it looked like.”

In this way, ex­er­cise can help even those with the most neg­a­tive body im­age reach a more neu­tral place. Per­sonal trainer Han­nah Lewin uses the prin­ci­ples of body neu­tral­ity to as­sist her clients with their goals. “Body neu­tral­ity can be a use­ful way of help­ing some­one to con­cen­trate on im­prov­ing their strength and fit­ness with­out fo­cus­ing too much on aes­thet­ics,” she ex­plains. “Set­ting goals like im­prov­ing your 10km run time or lift­ing heav­ier can make you re­alise just how ca­pa­ble your body re­ally is – and ac­cep­tance will feel eas­ier.” Think back to the last time you smashed a PB in the gym or on the track. Those legs you can’t stand to see in the mir­ror don’t seem that bad when you re­alise they can carry you 5km in 25 min­utes, right?

Whole-is­tic ap­proach

Adopt­ing a neu­tral stance could also be a health­ier ap­proach in it­self. Try to feel pos­i­tive about any­thing all the time – be it your body, job or re­la­tion­ship – and you’re prob­a­bly set­ting your­self up to fail. Neu­tral­ity gives you a free pass – some leeway for those days when you just want to crawl back un­der the doona and start again to­mor­row.

It’s for this rea­son that some ar­gue it’s even more in­clu­sive than its pre­de­ces­sor. “Dis­abled peo­ple – es­pe­cially those of us who are of colour – are of­ten still left out of these types of con­ver­sa­tions,” says Keah Brown, an ac­tivist who writes about her dis­abil­ity. “Neu­tral­ity pro­vides peo­ple with the space to work through their com­pli­cated is­sues with their bod­ies.”

Among its ad­vo­cates, the over­whelm­ing feel­ing that comes from em­brac­ing a body-neu­tral stance is free­dom. Free­dom from think­ing too much about your body; free­dom from the emo­tional en­ergy of striv­ing to love all of it. “When you pay less at­ten­tion to your ap­pear­ance and give less weight to those neg­a­tive thoughts, it frees you up to fo­cus on other as­pects of your life,” says Bam­ford. “That could be your fam­ily, friends or work but also get­ting back to your per­son­al­ity traits – the things that make you

Let’s slide into neu­tral.

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